stimulus

State breezes past beryllium risks in stimulus rush to hire for Hanford cleanup

Fellow nonprofit journalism center ProPublica produced this insightful report about how the state of Washington is brushing past the insidious and sometimes lethal risks of beryllium contamination during its stimulus-funded stampede to hire workers to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The report by David Epstein and Krista Kjellman Schmidt shows that the effects are more than just workplace statistics.  They have a human face.

Cleaning up Coeur d'Alene

Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman highlights the history behind a $1.79 billion bankruptcy settlement between the American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO), owner of the Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead from the mines helped fuel World War II's barrage of bullets and Idaho's economic trajectory, but the mine owners knowingly emitted large amounts of lead into the environment, though they could have fixed the emissions control.

Instead, they pursued record profits while poisoning the air with a substance known to make children fidgety, dumb and brain damaged.  The Kellogg mine was on the Coeur d'Alene river, which drains into Lake Coeur d'Alene, which along with the upper reaches of the Spokane River is now one of the nation's largest Superfund sites.

Now, the mine's waste tailings, full of heavy metals like cadmium, spread into Washington, and the state and the E.P.A.'s work is not done.  $435 million of the settlement is set aside specifically for Bunker Hill.  The clean up of the mines is revving Idaho's economic engine now, attracting another $15-20 million in stimulus funds from the Obama Administration.

Read University of Idaho Associate Professor Katherine Aiken's excellent history of the Bunker Hill mine, whose owners were embroiled in Watergate, giving illegal contributions to the EPA to influence its decisions, rather than spending the money on cleaning up the toxic legacy they had left to Idaho and Washington's children.

As homeless tolls rise, so does the need for a solution

Nine bodies of homeless men have been found outdoors in and around Anchorage since May of this year, with the latest discovered this weekend, reports Kyle Hopkins in one of a series of stories in the Anchorage Daily News. The most recent man had been dead for several days before discovery. Police report no signs of foul play, but don't yet know his cause of death.

Four of the previous deaths were alcohol-related, but no other links between all the bodies are apparent. Four of the men were Native Alaskans, spurring talk that the deaths were racially-motivated killings, but so far no evidence has been released to back this up. One man was robbed and beaten to death in Centennial Park by two 18-year-olds who stole a duffel bag, $7 and beer. They have been charged with second-degree murder. Police say at least one of the teenagers was living at a camp in the park as well.

The cluster of deaths highlights a growing problem. Following recession and “gentrification” of downtown Anchorage, the number of homeless people in the city increased 35 percent from last year to almost 3000. Only about 13 percent are substance abusers or chronic inebriates. And with shelters overflowing, the question now is, where are these people going to go?

The police say they would like to get homeless people out of camps and into a centralized location, perhaps a tent city, similar to what Seattle did with their “housing first” plan where they set people up with housing without requiring them to halt substance abuse first.

Obama electric-car research total stunning compared to past R&D efforts

president-you-know-whoTake a look at most of today's news stories about President Obama announcing that the government is awarding $2.4 billion to spur the manufacturing of electric-hybrid cars.

The headline on a New York Times piece is a good example: "Obama visits economically depressed region."

Well, do tell! That hed could've been on dozens of stories in the last year. The accounts of Obama's visit to Elkhart County, Indiana (unemployment rate: 16.8 percent) that we've found so far today are heavy on how this is supposed to be great for the economy. These accounts fall short on how this stacks up as an energy investment compared to past performance.

With the $2.4 billion in federal funds matched by the companies receiving it, we're looking at, according to the White House, "the single largest investment in advanced battery technology for hybrid and electric-drive vehicles ever made." This is huge.

To put this $2.4 billion government investment into context, consider that the Clinton and Bush administrations spent something like $1.5 billion over eight years on an ill-fated program called the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle. Taxpayers and the Big Three automakers -- which kicked in $8 billion -- funded a research program.

They did find ways to make more fuel-efficient vehicles -- but at a cost of roughly $7,000 to $10,000 per car. Because of the high pricetag, the automakers never put their newfound knowledge into effect.

What did they get for their $1 billion a year?

Stimulus brings flush toilets for Native Americans in AK

The days of relieving oneself in a "honey bucket" will soon be over in a number of isolated Native American communities in Alaska, Alex DeMarban reports in The Tundra Drums.  Some $42 million is being spent to bring flush toilets and other sanitation improvements to the towns. In a few cases, sewage lagoons inside floodplains will be relocated to places where they are not in danger of causing widespread contamination in times of high water.